My next contributor has the unique distinction of being my longest running friend–47 years to be exact–and the most surprising thing about our friendship is that we have never lived in the same place together at the same time. Our grandmothers were friends; our mothers are friends, and our daughters are now carrying on the tradition. Mary Kay Klein and I are in many ways complete opposites. She is highly organized, well read, and is passionate and articulate about issues she cares about. She loves data, science, has a memory for details and is a natural born planner. She is the kind of friend that when she comes for a visit doesn’t wait around to be served–she is up the next morning cheerfully scrambling eggs asking, “Who wants coffee?” I love her for that. One of the things I admire about her the most is that she is an excellent mother. Her three children, Zak, Paxton, and Elliot, have no idea how lucky there were to have her at the helm. When her youngest left for West Point last fall, I was certain I was going to have to fly back to Boise, Idaho where I would find her curled up in the fetal position lamenting she had nothing left to live for. But Mary Kay has shown me another face of empty nesting and while life is, indeed, different, it does not have to be bleak. She goes on dates with her husband and doesn’t need to find a babysitter; she regularly exercises and isn’t eating the remains on children’s plates or shoving down French Fries between carpools. She volunteers because she wants to–not because the kids need services hours, and she is working on her resume instead of haranguing her kids about their college applications. Yes, there is life as an empty nester and if it looks anything like she does, sign me up…
This is the time of year that many parents wonder “what am I going to go when they leave…” I suppose I felt this way a bit when our first one left home five years ago, but in all honesty, I was still so busy with the other two (the youngest requiring quite a bit energy keeping track of him), that I knew I would still have much of my time occupied. Two years later, the second left, and then last year, the “baby”.
Not a day goes by that I don’t miss any of them, but there have been a few things I have either done along the way or frequently reminded myself of, to help reframe things.
First, I once recalled hearing Jackie Kennedy saying, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much”. Now, I fully understand the notion of free will, but what I did take from the quote was that as a parent, I needed to give it my full effort. This is what we always tried to do. Second, and this quote I think is a bit sentimental for me, but rings true, is “A mother’s job is to give her children roots and wings”. I attempted to make our home one that the kids felt secure in and enjoyed coming home to. After 18 years with each, it was time to send them on the “flying” part, hoping that they felt “rooted”.
Now that I have more time on my hands, I am reengaging with my profession prior to having children, which was in the field of maternal and child health. I feel privileged to have been able to live my profession for 18 years with each of our kids, and now that they are gone, I am hoping to help other mothers/parents experience the same experiences with their children., only this time around with a whole new perspective.
If on occasion I find myself feeling a bit wistful, I look at our children and think about their individual accomplishments and feel so happy, excited and optimistic about their futures. I must confess to feeling a bit of vicarious success through them. If I have a brief thought of “I wish they were at home”, I quickly try to visualize how that would look in reality, and the picture is somewhat depressing; I do not think they would be the individuals they are today, missing most of the opportunities of personal development that leaving home has afforded them. However, I hope that later in life, we can be physically closer so I can experience them, and hopefully our grandchildren, on a regular basis.
Yes, the daily work of raising children in done, but now comes the fun part of establishing true friendships with them!